Friday, September 18, 2015

Steer into the Skid

As a teen growing up in a small town in western Pennsylvania, “Drivers Ed” was a fact of life and taught during the summers at my High School.  Of my many memories of “summer drivers school,” none are as fresh and stark as some of those famous films created to scare the pants off of young drivers.  A few classics are up on “YouTube,” you should checkout “The Last Date” or “Highways of Agony,” …… Classics!!

One of the challenges of taking “Drivers Ed” during the summer was trying to learn to drive safely in icy and snowy winter conditions.  One of the lessons from those summer driving classes was the teacher’s repeated message to “steer into the skid” if the car lost traction on an icy road.  It seemed so counter intuitive to actually steer into the direction where you were skidding, it felt like steering into the path of trouble!  While hard to understand, the first time I hit an icy patch as a young driver and did the opposite, steering away from the skid, I sent the car into a 360-degree spin and ended in the ditch.  No one was hurt, and the front fender of our 1970 Chevelle dented a bit, but a lesson was learned.  In future moments on icy streets when I started to skid, I remembered the lesson and gently “steered in to the skid” and in most moments avoided any issues/ditches!!

As I was recently recounting this lesson with my new driving son (not many icy patches here in Atlanta but a good driving lesson anyway,) the story and memory got me thinking…. This idea of “steering into the skid” is not merely a lesson for a young driver; it is actually a powerful lesson for life!!  As we come upon the “icy patches” in our business worlds or personal lives, we need to be reminded to of this lesson and “steer” into not away from the challenges/obstacles/problems we are facing!

Business World:  In business we often focus on our moments of success, looking for ways to replicate them across broader markets/verticals/brands/products/teams.  We typically “steer away” from situations that are not going well, wanting to spend our energy (and our our team’s capacity/capabilities) on trying to replicate what’s working rather than deeply understanding the areas that are not going well.  We almost have a sense that if we just get better on the “good stuff”, the “bad stuff” will just “go away” or be lost in a haze of broader success.  Dangerous ideas and deeply untrue!

Rather than avoiding the weak spots of our business, we need to “steer into the skids” of our business.  What markets/verticals/brands/products/teams are doing the worst?  Which competitors are doing the best to take our market share?  Where are we most vulnerable in the next few months (operating plan horizon) and across a multi-year landscape (strategic plan horizon)? 

I am certainly not suggesting that we ignore the “good stuff ” in our businesses; we do need to replicate our successes all the time.  What I am specifically focusing on is to add intensity, clarity and focus on the weak spots if the business, proactively “steering into the skid” across the landscape of the business model as a method to avoid fatal professional “crashes.”

Personal Lives:  In our personal lives this same adage also rings true.  In a life that is hectic, time stretched, and often stressful, it is tempting to take any available “open time” to take a breath and relax.  While I certainly an advocate of this idea on many fronts, I have come to realize that the issues/concerns/problems or “skids” in our personal lives rarely “get better” on their own.  Think about a marriage, a friendship, and a parent-child relationship that has friction or concerns.  Letting them “simmer,” waiting to “deal with them” at some amorphous time in the future is never a good idea.  This idea applies to our physical lives as well.  If we are dealing with a chronic health issue, dive into the problem, don't put it off! 

I have a dear friend who recently underwent emergency cardiac bypass surgery after failing a “run of the mill” stress test.  The good news is that he is recovering well.  The scary part is that he had postponed three previous stress test appointments and was on the verge of delaying the test appointment that he dramatically failed; that fourth delay could have resulted in his early death, rather than a successful operation and progressing recovery.  It took him a while but he ultimately did “steer into the skid” and he is back safely on the road of life.

Whether in your personal or professional lives, think about those old “Drivers Ed” movies and remind yourself to find more opportunities to “steer into the skid.”  There is no way to live a life absent of challenges/obstacles/problems or issues.  Don't spend anytime “wishing away” your problems; instead take a few extra moments (both personally and professionally) and dive into the problem areas, “steer into the skids,” and take action (don’t postpone your stress test appointment) in order to have a smoother and safer “ride” ahead!